Longtime Long Island City Residents Want More Pharmacies With Their Millennials
When asked what he thinks of the fastest-developing real estate market in United States, Steve Kanellos takes a moment. He looks out the window of his 70-year-old Court Square Diner, draws a deep breath and says, “Long Island City? Long Island City is old versus new.”
For decades Long Island City, or LIC, was working-class, home to factories and taxi dispatchers, bustling gentlemen’s clubs and blue-collar bars. That’s been changing. Over the past 10 years or more, LIC has sprouted hipster cafes, trendy bars, and high-priced studio apartments and condos, signaling a shift in the landscape that is familiar to NYC residents.
What’s happening here is commonly known as gentrification, where rising rents due to an influx of the young and wealthy price local residents out. But LIC’s pattern is a little different, in part because before it gentrified, very few people actually lived in the neighborhood. According to the U.S. census, between 1990 and 2015, the number of households in the neighborhood went from virtually none to more than 6,000. The neighborhood went from a place where people went to work to a commuter center—rather empty during the day and teeming at night.
Kanellos says the “old timers” see little benefit in the change. Some of his customers who have been eating at the diner for over 50 years complain that the millennials moving in have little sense of community. “A millennial’s dream is to own an apartment, order on GrubHub, and never talk to anyone in the building,” he says. The change does have its benefits, namely safety, since before the area was a “dead zone at night.”
Joe Donohue, who has worked at Silvercup Studios, where shows like Sex & The City were shot, for over 30 years, and whose father worked in the area before that, echoes Kanellos.
LIC used to be a no man’s land he says. “The change is for the better, if you ask me.”
His concern is not about the change but about its pace. “It is too quick,” he laments. Quick change is how you lose your grasp on what’s important: “You don’t know where you come from.”
Though Kanellos and Donohue describe LIC as a no man’s land, there are longtime native residents.
Census data show that as of 2000, the third largest demographic were 65-74. As a bloc, residents 65 and older are the second largest demographic next to millennials.
Kanellos says the old-timers hoped that the changes would mean access to services, such as new hospitals or chain pharmacies—but all they see are more bars, restaurants, and cafes.
Those services suit 29-year-old Steve, who works as a barista at The Mill, a reclaimed wood–lined coffee shop near a rock-climbing gym. “I want to be in the area with my two-year-old son in the next few years,” he says. He sees families, new schools, and remodeled parks, and all of that appeals to him. “I’m from 233rd and Yonkers in the Bronx, the tippy top,” he says, “and I want peace and safety for my son.”
Today, daytime LIC is flooded with the sounds of construction. Workers in reflective vests file into nearby restaurants and bars for lunch. They clock out by early evening and make way for the commuters returning from Manhattan or Brooklyn for dinner or a drink before bed.
The morning and lunchtime crowds have gotten smaller over the years, Kanellos says, while the dinner crowd has grown. He underscores that this is the greatest challenge for business owners in LIC. “People say LIC is like a little Manhattan. It is not,” he says. “In Manhattan you have foot traffic all day, people buying. Not here.”
Kanellos has a plan to adapt. He’s going to start buying organic and slowly raise his prices, and cross his fingers and hope his long-time customers don’t scurry away.
“Other businesses are struggling. But I think we can make it work.”